Corporeal Passage: Chapter 1: Self-Awareness
by Jeff RandEthan retreated slowly from an altered state of consciousness only to experience an overload to his five senses and sensations to others that he never imagined. For a moment he saw a dizzying array of colors covering a full spectrum until it settled to the familiar range. There were auditory sensations of pitches beyond his normal hearing. He felt new pains and pleasures. He could even sense time and place. Yet he could not interpret the meaning.
This bizarre reality, if it truly had any meaning, continued to haunt Ethan. The perception of time was frightening in its duration. The early experiences had been beyond any imagination in their variety and depth. Now that the sensations were more realistic, they were no less confusing. Ethan could make no sense of his being, let alone the universe, if that still had meaning. The confusion continued to torture him for a long time; yet he fought to maintain a conscious perception of this horrid situation rather than return to knowing a state of nothingness.
In the struggle to become self-aware, Ethan could not yet understand any personal physical attributes other than these sensations. Perhaps Ethan was a 'she' or maybe a sexless being, such as a paramecium. Whatever preceded the current state might have been a deception, and Ethan was now coming to understand the real self. Yet, was the real self a physical being, either biological or synthetic, or was it simply a series of electronic charges? Perhaps the concept of self was unimportant in the realm of consciousness that was now part of the whole rather than a temporary manifestation of being an individual. He hoped this was not the case.
Ethan struggled with his very existence. Perhaps he had died and was entering purgatory as he believed to be one's destination immediately after death. Yet such sensory confusion was not a desirable state. Had he been destined for eternity here? Was this the result of unforgiven sin and marked the entrance to hell. He had accepted the existence of hell but expected it to be filled with fire and melting sulfur. Maybe eternal damnation was customized according to one's particular sins.
The thoughts of afterlife brought another realization. Ethan had to have been alive. However, he did not know of what form. He might be a mimivirus or bacterium, but more likely something higher. Of course, that must be the case; otherwise, if he were a bacterium how would he know of higher lifeforms let alone the concept of sin. He knew he must be an animal, maybe an aardvark or a zorro or something in between.
He tried to imagine his physical attributes. He could conceive a head but no tail. The head must have two eyes. What his sight lacked in the scope of directional range, it excelled in frontal acuity. His proboscis was not very pronounced and limited in its abilities. He conceived a pair of ears, also not the most effective feature that jutted out from the sides of his head. He did not have gills; instead he processed air through a pair of lungs. He sensed that he might have four specialized appendages - a pair for bipedal locomotion and others to directly influence his environment and secure sustenance for his body. Then as he thought of his reproductive organs, he knew that he must be a human male.
Ethan was not of the generation most known for taking mental trips by using psychedelic drugs. But he had heard that some who came of age in the sixties had some wild sensory experiences which further encouraged their addiction. Had he been given some lysergic acid diethylamide? That might make more sense than being cast into hell. At least the present situation wouldn't be eternal.
Believing he had left a state of conscious oblivion, he was becoming more self-aware. And with that self-awareness he realized a third possibility. Though he could not remember how he came into this state, he had some sense that he might be experiencing a virtual reality triggered by some external device. Perhaps this was his true reality and this external device that created it had recently failed.
His brain struggled to regain its role as the intermediary between self and a material reality. He had to bring it into focus and in doing so reduce the sensory overload he had been experiencing. It would not be easy. Other than viewing himself as human, he had no idea of his history, if indeed there was a history. Did he have a name? Perhaps he was just completing birth and exiting his mother's womb. That would make sense in that he had not been given a name yet. But then how did he know so much? The thought that he was the most intelligent person ever to exist would be proof of his divinity. Was he the messiah conceived by the holy spirit born of a virgin mother as Isiah prophesized? That can't be. I must be a blasphemer - he thought in English. How is it that I know the English word? His mind was a mess.
Ethan continued to be troubled by erratic thoughts and sensations, but it was the thought of something divine that kept coming back. He came to an awareness that he had a Bible to give more insight. What was a Bible? A collection of words to make sense of God and the world, he believed. But there was no way he could experience these words in his current state. All he had were fragments of stored memories. For example, he could remember a group of words together with others in a collection called Exodus, "I AM THAT I AM." A most powerful phrase he knew that might help him achieve focus through a mantra.
"I am" he said in his mind. He repeated the words again and dozens more times, while forcing himself to ignore all other thoughts and sensations. Although he was not aware of his physical state, he was becoming more relaxed. He had now thought these same words hundreds of times to the extent that "I am" was now the whole of his existence. Nothing else mattered until his mind was jarred momentarily and he spoke out loud, "I am Ethan." His reality started to come into focus.
"I think therefore I am. I am Ethan. I am alive. I am aware. I am Human," Ethan spoke the thoughts now becoming clearer. Though his senses were still in a state of limbo and he could not hear his own words, he was becoming aware of his physical being. He was sure it was not a dream. He began to repeat this new mantra, as he attempted to control his senses. While the newly perceived senses were dissipating and he doubted that taste would be prominent, he decided to turn his attention to the familiar, specifically his sense of touch.
Having a sense that he was a human gave Ethan the belief that various parts of his body should be responding to the environment due to their position and surroundings. Although he concentrated on his body and appendages, he could feel nothing but the persistent random sensations. Ethan continued to be troubled by his inability to control his sense of touch. He had no idea if it was hot or cold or if he was lying or standing. Was he touching anything? His situation was hopeless. Again, he came back to the thought that he had been cast into hell. He could find a way to cope, since he had an eternity to make the best of it.
More time passed as Ethan tried to avoid concentrating on the random interactions to his senses. At least the sensations were not typically painful or miserable. Perhaps he wasn't facing eternal damnation after all. He always believed that he was a faithful Catholic. In fact, he had recently led worship in Zero Node. "Zero Node," what's that? He couldn't remember. Yet the words popped into his brain. Suddenly he realized he had a brain. Not only that, but he knew that his senses were merely inputs to this brain. "I must restore my brain to working order. Perhaps, I am in a lunatic asylum," he thought.
"I don't care if I go crazy. One, two, three, four, five, six, switch. Crazy go I if care don't I. Six, five, four, three, two, one, switch." Said Ethan, unable to hear himself. When he said it again, he immediately realized that he had worked with numbers in the past. Following that train of thought, he decided to concentrate his mental efforts on math. Thinking of a math problem produced a change in the inputs he was receiving from his senses. The randomness had been replaced with patterns. Was he hearing music?
Trying to concentrate on a single math problem continued to be difficult as his brain was flooded with disjointed theories and equations. Finally, he cried to his deaf ears, "What is the probability that a chicken crossing the road will make it to the other side?" This caused a fundamental shift in his methodology and he began to concentrate on the individual elements. He determined the age and sex of the chicken, its mass, and last nutritional inputs. Then there was the width and surface of the road. He thought of the traffic, including the age of the drivers and safety sensors on the cars. He included the probability of the bird being devoured by a predator. What about the bird's mentality? Did it have experience crossing roads or did it have a squirrel brain where it would panic and run back to be killed by oncoming traffic.
Ethan realized he had been a professional actuary as he gained a focus on reality. He was reclined, though he could not feel clothing. His head was covered and attached to something. He was restrained and could not free himself. He cried aloud and could now hear himself, "I'm Ethan. Is anyone there?" He heard a voice before smelling a strange odor. Then he lost consciousness.
Awakening in a bed, it took Ethan a moment to adjust to his surroundings. He was back in his familiar quarters in Zero Node. This he knew, but he did not remember going to bed. And what of the strange dream or was it a dream? He felt weak and was not eager to rise from his bed. Perhaps he had been seriously ill and was put here to recover.
He recalled getting ready to leave Zero Node when he received a bombshell from his son. Ethan faced a dilemma. Was he prepared to leave for the uncertain journey back to America to find his wife and daughter who he hadn't seen in four years, if by chance they were still alive? Or should he stay to protect his 15-year-old son who would not leave. In the end, Michela King made the decision for him as she prepared to close the hatch to the submarine. "Stay with your son," she said. "It will increase our chances, if we separate." Ethan accepted this truth as he bid farewell to his fellow travelers of the past four years, Michaela and her father Keith, in addition to the friends joining them more recently, Steve Donohue, Wilbur Noonan, and Mike Osvath.
When he decided to stay, Ethan was quickly ushered to the control center deep within the Zero Node complex. Doug Sutton had taken charge with evident impatience. Ethan believed Doug knew more than he was saying and was rushing to complete some actions before the countdown concluded. Doug had discovered the passage beneath the control center console and directed the remaining folks to a chamber below. Ethan joined his son, along with Doug and the five other natives of Zero Node. Doug indicated that they were now in the place to complete the corporeal passage or "CP" as he called it.
Ethan counted 32 recliners in the chamber for the corporeal passage. At least they appeared to be recliners for some very tall people. They reminded him of the 'beds' in the Yakutsk Neural Virtual Reality (NVR) Center where he extracted Steve Donohue and his accomplice. Yet these devices allowed the person to sit upright and did not appear to have any mechanisms for extracting body wastes necessary for prolonged habitation. Rather than a wire harness to attach to the skull, there was a full head piece. Ethan knew that the inhabitants of the NVR centers had sockets drilled into their heads to attach the wire harness to neurons in the brain. Doug indicated that the CP technology did not require any drilling into the skull, relying instead on external sensory stimulations.
As Ethan strapped himself in the recliner and adjusted the head piece to his short stature, Doug explained the process. He indicated that the countdown would be complete soon, but to be prepared at that moment everyone would need to be in a state of sensory deprivation. The head piece would cause them to focus their minds for the experience. If they were to continue normal brain activity and responses to stimuli during the experience, all neurological activity would be disrupted, including the basic functions from the medulla oblongata, such as triggering the heart to beat. If one were to remain alive afterwards, if even possible, every bodily function would have to be automated.
Once Ethan's body was strapped in place and his head totally surrounded by the mechanism, he recalled that his eyes were stimulated with images, he heard sounds, experienced smells and tastes, and even felt stimuli on his cheeks. But it faded quickly, and he could not recall how he entered a state of nirvana. Yet he continued to be conscious of nothingness.
Ethan was glad to be safe in his bed again, although he did not recall how he got back to his quarters. He surveyed his surroundings. It appeared to be the same place he had occupied during his stay in Zero Node. Apparently, the corporeal passage did not take him anywhere. He was back where they started. At least his senses were now working properly. His thoughts drifted back to the memories of how he came to be in this unusual place.
Four years ago, society was going through great change affecting the lifestyle of nearly everyone in earth. Having achieved the dream of neural virtual reality, humans could engage in all sorts of experiences through a reality manifested directly in their brains. This served everyone equally regardless of economic status, requiring little effort on their part and minimal external resources. When everyone was to be connected in this virtual universe for the World Unity Celebration, Ethan and three others refused to participate, including his son. The people were housed in thousands of centers throughout the world where their biological needs would be met without their conscious effort. To Ethan's surprise, the celebration never really ended, and the world's population remained unknowingly confined to the NVR centers. The four members of Ethan's band became a threat to this new order and were forced to remain hidden to stay alive.
The four refugees were first hiding in Michigan before taking a perilous journey on foot across the United States and Canada to the Arctic Ocean. During this trek lasting more than a year, they observed complete devastation to the structures of humanity, save for the NVR centers holding the mass of humans connected to the virtual world.
Prior to the trek, they had received a mysterious communication telling them that the solution to this situation could be found in a time capsule buried in Siberia. After spending a winter on the Arctic Ocean, they were able to fix a boat to sail across the Arctic and Pacific to the Russian east coast. From here they had to travel more than a thousand miles across land before navigating a series of rivers to get to a specific mountain in the north of Siberia. After retrieving the time capsule, they sought to rescue the two Winter Camp pioneers who originally buried it and were now housed in the Yakutsk NVR Center. Winter Camp, being much more than an annual event, brought these folks together in the past, and now by bringing these great minds back together, there could be some hope to save humanity.
Ethan and his colleagues rescued the two, but lost contact with them before they were conscious. Whatever controlled NVR considered Ethan and the others as a threat that must be eliminated forcing them to hide once again. When Ethan returned to the small cabin where the two unconscious NVR refugees were hidden, they were gone. Some days later when the remnants of a campsite were found during the brutal Siberian winter, it was assumed that the refugees had perished. It wasn't until several months later and weeks after a deadly typhoon, that one of the refugees was found alive on the remains of a raft in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Steve Donohue had survived against impossible odds, before being rescued.
Steve joined the small crew of the Clearwater as they set sail in a damaged boat to a destination found on a note extracted from the time capsule. Nothing was found at the specified point but the ocean, causing the crew to move to a nearby island. There they were imprisoned until their capturers took them by submarine to the Zero Node complex deep in the Pacific Ocean, located exactly beneath their earlier search on the surface. Zero Node proved to be an incredible feat of engineering of unknown origin.
As he lay in his bed, he thought he could smell bacon frying. He heard a noise and turned his head towards the door to the room. His son Louis was approaching, holding a platter.
"Hello father. I am happy to see you are awake," said Leu. "I brought you some bacon. I am afraid the pigs did not survive the corporeal passage."